A graceful dolphin arcs out of the water to gasps of delight from boatloads of tourists. Sadly, the seemingly harmless dolphin boat tripscome at a severe hidden cost to the mammals, as it causes them to suffer stress and health problems.
Puja Mitra, head of Goa office of Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), can attest to it. After closely researching dolphin tours and their impact on the marine environment, she says, “Our study has shown that largely due to a lack of awareness, training and guidelines, there is stress caused by boat trips to the environment and the wildlife species.”
A recent WWF finding shows that many dolphins feeding at the river-ocean confluence are constantly surrounded by tourist boats, and so are unable to feed. This severely stresses the animals and even reduces their reproductive capabilities and the result is a decline in population, the study states. But, Mitra also cautions that dolphin tourism can be a helpful conservation tool. “These trips are also an opportunity for the public to engage with delicate marine habitats, and to learn about the importance of ocean ecosystems,” she says.
She points out that better conservation can be achieved by enforcing a comprehensive set of guidelines and reducing trips. WWF recently conducted a workshop for a group of 36 boat operators from Candolim, Dona Paula, Britona, Vasco, Chapora, Morjim, Miramar and Panaji over three days.
“The guidelines for best practices have been shared with the department of tourism for their feedback,” says a programme officer with the WWF, Devanshi Kasana. Most dolphin trips do not obey any guidelines under the present regime. This is mainly because boat operators are not educated about the animal and their behaviour patterns.
For example, when dolphins slap their tails on the water when hemmed in by boats, the operators say the dolphins are “dancing”. In actuality, the highly intelligent creatures are alerting other dolphins.